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    Activation is Key in Sports Marketing

  • A 30-second spot at last month’s Super Bowl went for nearly $3 million. So why is sports marketing the largest sector of the sponsorship industry—and how can you make it work for you?

    Papa John’s became an NFL sponsor this season after its sponsorship of the 2010 Super Bowl set record sales.

    “We did a test drive last year, as we were an official pizza sponsor of Super Bowl XLIV, and during that promotion, we had the best day ever for our company,” says Tish Muldoon, director of public relations for Papa John’s. “We sold 900,000 pizzas.”

    Papa John’s marketing strategy was relatively simple: the TV spots featured “Papa” John Schnatter delivering pizzas around the community and fostering a family feel. Meanwhile, the company gained rights to the logos of the Super Bowl for retail promotions in stores, and “Sponsored in part by Papa John’s” popped out of the commentators’ mouths every few commercial breaks.

    Chipps says companies align with the Super Bowl for two primary objectives: to captivate viewers with a 30-second blast of brilliance, and to plaster the marks of the Super Bowl across the brand for retail promotion.

    “What’s appealing to companies about the Super Bowl is the halo effect from a positive rub-off through affiliation,” Chipps says. “Companies want to tap into that excitement and energy and have it transfer to their brands.”

    Papa John’s three-year commitment with the Super Bowl proves that the brand is banking on that transfer. But in a bold move, the pizza company ditched its traditional TV advertising this year and instead built hype by promising to give away pizzas if the game went into overtime.

    It helps that a natural synergy exists between watching sports and eating quick-serve food, especially when it comes to pizza. “In the pizza business, the Super Bowl is a big deal for us,” says Andrew Gamm, director of brand development at Pizza Patrón.

    Sales jumped 15 percent for Pizza Patrón, a Latino-focused pizza brand with 88 locations, on the day of the 2010 Super Bowl.

    Pizza Patrón advertises its pies with equal doses of traditional marketing and sports marketing. Its go-to strategy is representing the brand at community events—namely soccer, because of its target demographic.

    “We look to be involved in the different markets that we’re in,” Gamm says. “That’s amateur and it’s community-based, but that’s where our primary focus takes place.”

    Community involvement means selling pizzas on-site at soccer tournaments numbering 2,000–3,000 guests. To pump fans up, Pizza Patrón sets up inflatables, prize wheels, soccer kicks, and activities.

    The soccer strategy allows Pizza Patrón to have a quantifiable method of measuring ROI. “We hand out coupons, and when they go back to the store and are redeemed, we count them,” Gamm says. “We know how many people were there, how many we distributed, and we can determine a measure of success the old-fashioned way.”

    The rest of Pizza Patrón’s traditional advertising consists of the usual: billboards, transit, direct mail, door hangers, radio, and television. “That all works well, and it’s definitely necessary to try to increase business at the stores, but that is all very hands-off advertising,” Gamm says. “You write a check and you produce the appropriate piece for the venue. It doesn’t always work for you. On the sports side, we are much more hands-on at the events.”

    For a chain with fewer than 100 locations, Pizza Patrón’s neighborhood strategy is conducive to its reach: Pizza lands directly in the hands of the target demographic, while the clientele discovers the brand’s presence, products, and promotions.

    For nationwide chains with hundreds of franchisees, the game requires a slightly different offensive strategy: activation.

    “It’s what we call buying a toy without batteries,” Chipps says. “Smart sponsors are not just signing the sponsorship and walking away from it, hoping they get all this return on investment. When you buy a sponsorship, you get the typical benefits—it might be tickets for hospitality, signage, that kind of thing. That’s all fine and dandy, but to really get the biggest bang for their buck, a marketer needs to allocate additional dollars to activate the sponsorship and bring it to life.”

    Phillip Jones, president and CEO of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau (dcvb), had the advantage of watching sponsorships activate as the city geared up to host this year’s Super Bowl. “There are several sponsors who came online in late November, early December who were waiting to see what type of exposure and visibility we received before they made a commitment,” he says.

    To get the ball rolling on a sponsorship, companies need to not only activate their sponsorship, but activate it with their franchisees. Chipps says it is the sponsor’s duty to make the partnership as appealing as possible to the franchisees and engage them, whether by giving them signage or in-store collateral promoting the affiliation.

    Sponsorships may be a double-edged sword, however, when franchises do not see the benefit. At Pizza Patrón, not all franchisees can directly benefit from the company’s marketing. The pizza chain has a sponsorship agreement with the American Airlines Center in Dallas, where it sells pizza and promotes the brand at Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars games, as well as at concerts and events that take place in the venue.

    “Franchisees don’t see a direct benefit for that, especially if they live in a market outside of Dallas,” Gamm says. “‘Why are you guys investing in a sponsorship arrangement with the American Airlines Center, and how does that help me in Phoenix, in L.A., in Miami?’ And because it’s difficult to measure, you can’t give them a definitive, quantifiable response.”

    But experts say building the brand is often just as important as growing the business itself.

    For the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, this was certainly the case. The DCVB was the first sponsor to sign on to the 2011 Super Bowl, pledging $1 million more than two years before the game.

    “We were in a position to capitalize on all the immediate action and thousands of fans coming to Dallas,” Jones says. “With over $14 billion invested in new development, we thought it was a great opportunity to be on the frontlines, showcasing to the world the new Dallas.”

    Chipps says the ultimate advantage of sports marketing over traditional marketing is the heart-mind connection fans have to their teams. “Sports are near and dear to many people,” he says. “They are already passionate about their favorite teams and their favorite sports activities. By sponsoring those, companies or marketers hope to tap in on a key passion point and gain a positive association by supporting this activity that people love.”

    As for downsides to sports marketing, Jones could only think of one. “The only disadvantage was that it cost us $1 million,” he says.